Thursday, August 04, 2016

Letting Anti-Semitism Fly

The most radical thing about this Jordana Horn article in the Kveller may be its title: "It's Time We Stopped Letting Anti-Semitism Fly."


Because for too long, the narrative most certainly has not been that Jews are too reticent to step in and call out anti-Semitism. Much the opposite: it is taken as an article of faith that Jews do nothing but call out anti-Semitism -- consistently, persistently, often over-sensitively. The idea that Jews need to be told to confront anti-Semitism more aggressively would have been laughable. Even our own institutions take it as a given that Jews "cry anti-Semitism" at the drop of a hat.

I don't think that's true. It hasn't been my experience. There are, to be sure, a variety of responses one can take to perceived anti-Semitism -- and sometimes, depending on the context, letting it slide is a valid choice. But the point is we should trust Jewish evaluations of the situation we're in. If you're Jewish, and a pattern of discourse or conduct worries or threatens you as a Jew, you shouldn't feel uncomfortable speaking out about it. Our testimony may not (and perhaps should not) represent the end of the discussion; but it should be seen as a valid -- indispensable, even -- contribution to it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Busy with Everything But Roundup

Ever had one major thing on your agenda, which causes you to become superproductive regarding all the minor things on your agenda? That's been me this week.

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Daniel Oppenheimer's meditation on being a "conservative leftist" really spoke to me. I've often described myself as "conservative in temperament but liberal in politics", and this is what I meant. It's also what I mean when I characterize myself as a very, very idealistic pragmatist.

Bibi Netanyahu tells GOP Senators he's still pro-two-states. For all the talk from the RJC about how Democrats are "anti-Israel", it's Republicans who have deviated most dramatically from core elements of the pro-Israel consensus. And it's high time that the pro-Israel establishment take them to task for it.

A really, really fascinating article by Eylon Aslan-Levy on early Israeli diplomatic policy regarding Jewish refugees from Arab countries (early meaning circa 1948-1956). It filled in some significant gaps in my knowledge about this important and nettlesome issue.

T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, issues a nuanced, thoughtful, and principled statement on the Black Lives Matter platform.

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Khan Family and Volunteering to Sacrifice

The speech given by the family of Captain Humayun Khan, Muslim, son of immigrants, who died serving in the American army in Iraq, was one of the most powerful moments of this campaign. The response of Donald Trump and his campaign has been one of the darkest. Smearing a Gold Star family, insinuating that the mother of the fallen hero wasn't "allowed" to speak -- it was truly grotesque. Several Trump supporters have, regrettably, followed suit -- this column has been making the rounds on Twitter for example. An old friend of mine posted another one on Facebook by a man named Chris Mark arguing that since Khan volunteered to serve in the American army, he -- not his parents -- is the only one who could be said to have sacrificed. Mark was clearly frustrated that the Khans were supporting a political party that he viewed as insufficiently supportive of the troops, and contended that "[t]o conflate the need to prevent potential terrorists from entering our country with the belief that ‘all Muslims’ should be banned is simply wrong and disingenuous."

I'm reposting, with minor edits, my response to the friend. Before I do so, though, I should observe that my friend is himself a person of color, of South Asian descent, who is currently serving in the American armed forces. I make that notation because it is always worth noting the perspective from which someone is coming from, particularly when it might diverge from popular expectations regarding what someone from that background would think. In any event, here is what I wrote in reply:

The question of whether a Gold Star family has itself "sacrificed" something strikes me as semantic at best; I've never before heard anyone chiding the family of a fallen soldier that they cannot speak of sacrifice. I'm doubtful one wants to plant one's flag on those grounds.
That said, the spirit of voluntarism does matter. All those who serve choose to put themselves in harm's way; that choice demands respect and admiration. But Trump's proposal for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" (it is Mark who is "simply wrong and disingenuous" to characterize this as "the need to prevent potential terrorists from entering our country". There is nobody who does not seek to prevent the latter; Trump was unambiguous in calling precisely for a blanket ban on all Muslim arrivals, as the link in Mark's own letter attests to) disrespects that voluntarism. The ethic of service, of voluntary sacrifice, is but a manifestation of the larger American ethos that we are who we choose to be, not what society or government assumes us to be. Khan chose to be a soldier and chose to risk the ultimate sacrifice. But were it up to Trump, Capt. Khan would have never had the opportunity to make the choice to serve in the first place, because Trump would not have let his family arrive in the United States at all. Trump's policy treats the Khan family as a threat solely due to their faith. That judgment crashes against the reality that they produced a hero.
There's a more basic point at work here, though. I can understand the frustration from someone who sees a military family carrying water for a party that he feels doesn't support the troops. As the respective conventions make evident, there are many other families of servicemembers or other public servants that feel the same way about the GOP. And it will thus inevitably be the case that some persons who have or whose loved ones have sacrificed themselves for our nation will be the authors of pained charges against those political figures they view as having failed them and their families. And those charges may not be right or accurate or even fair. The GOP has put up some Benghazi families in similar roles to that taken up by Khan's parents; no doubt Secretary Clinton views their charges as deeply wrongful.
But if you're a decent public servant dealing with a grieving family -- even one saying bad things about you, even one giving a speech attacking you -- you take the hit. You don't issue a snarky press release, you don't suggest the family forbids women from talking. Cindy Sheehan said plenty of things about President Bush that I (no fan of 43) found pretty ridiculous. But Bush, to his credit, didn't degrade or demean her. He took the hit, because sometimes taking the hit is part of the job. And that basic decency, unfortunately, is something Donald Trump proved he is just not capable of doing.
Has Trump finally gone too far? I doubt it. If "too far" hasn't happened yet, I don't know why this would change anything. But who knows. It would be poetic justice if the straw that finally broke this bigoted camel's back was that Donald Trump could not help himself in attacking the family of a Muslim, first-generation, American war hero.